Different Strokes for Different Malls

Phang Sau Lian



There’s no magical spell that drives shoppers into malls. Instead, operators need to have a good understanding of what their malls offer and the type of catchment they want to attract.

And no single formula applies to all malls. Rather, the adage “different strokes for  different folks” aptly describes what malls should be doing. The “magic formula”  is keeping close to who the customers are and what they want.

The competition is stiff. For a small nation, Malaysia  certainly  punches above its weight and is ranked as one of the world’s most must-go-to destinations when it comes to shopping.

For two consecutive years, Malaysia was ranked the world’s No. 4 global shop- ping destination after New York, London and Tokyo. In fact, three  of the world’s largest shopping malls are in Malaysia, namely 1 Utama Shopping  Centre, Mid Valley Megamall and Sunway Pyramid Shopping Mall.

According to a study conducted by Malaysia Shopping Malls Association (PPK Malaysia), for a country with a rel- atively small population of 30 million, it boasts over 500 malls. And that number is  expected to  increase with  more developers joining the bandwagon and established operators expanding their portfolio of malls.

The  growth  of malls  signifies  the change  in people’s lifestyles. Malls are no longer just places for shopping – they are also for leisure, entertainment and socialisation. Shopping as a popular pastime has seen  an increase among locals and tourists.

Heart and soul  of the  community

It is estimated that one out of five Malay- sians spends his leisure time at a mall on any given weekend.  Hence, malls have become an extension of people’s lives. In fact, they have become part of the heart and soul of the community.

The  changing lifestyle  and  new shopping behaviour has reshaped the landscape of the  shopping industry. Mall operators are  being  challenged to be more  creative and innovative in order to compete to remain ahead and be sustainable.

In the Klang Valley, it is estimated that  66 shopping malls are located  in Kuala Lumpur and another 58 in Selan- gor. Combined, they offer 33.7 million sq ft of retail space.

In such a competitive market, malls that are able to distinct themselves from others  with unique differentiators will be able to attract the crowds. Successful malls are usually  strong  in their  own positioning and brand  identities. These include Suria KLCC, Pavilion, Sunway Pyramid, Mid Valley, One Utama, Plaza Low Yat, Berjaya  Times  Square,  The Curve and Gateway@KLIA2.

Strong branding

Strong brand identity allows these malls to face newer competitors entering the market  as well as existing competitors as they keep a stronghold in people’s minds.

The identity occupies top brand recall in the minds  of shoppers and that can be a very powerful  connection a mall has with its shoppers. Branding  built extensively and consistently over time allows these malls to reap the benefits over the long run.

While a strong brand, clear unique selling points  (USPs) and  great brand identity  help,  that  is only part  of the story. The other  part calls for creating an experience that supports the brand, positioning and USPs.

Today’s malls are beyond shopping. They are  lifestyle centres that  create urban experiences for people to go to as part of their discovery journeys.

As such,  mall  environments are becoming increasingly interesting and creative.  Comfortable common space and ambience, good connectivity, des- tination sight-lines, exciting store design and atmosphere, unique interior design and layout have all become  parameters to be pushed and explored to accentuate the overall experience.

The  boundaries of sight,  sound, smell and  touch  are being  constantly redefined.

For example,  Starbucks  is not just a social place,  but  also a study  place too. Students enjoy having their group study in Starbucks instead of in a library because with  enabling technology, searching for information has become so easy. This disrupts the traditional way of students accessing  information and the need for a physical library.

Green  initiatives  such  as car park guiding systems with sensor lights provide convenience for shoppers when searching for parking space. For art lovers, malls have also become their destinations as art galleries  open  up within or artistic art pieces are displayed for public viewing.

Themed and unique precincts such as Asian Avenue in Sunway Pyramid, Tokyo Street  in Pavilion  and  others, which  break  away the monotony and clinical retail environment, are some of the successful  retail concept precincts that attract crowds.

Real-life stories

While people go to malls for brands and experiences, it’s ultimately how they feel about the experiences that will get them to talk and share with others. It’s not just about the merchandise that people buy but the stories behind the merchandise and how they relate to their lives. It is all about the shoppers’ story time.

When  people  dine  at DC Comics Superheroes Cafe, they can share  the stories of these superheroes, put them up on Facebook  and  let thousands of others know their stories of how, when and who they dine with.

When people queue to buy Crossover shoes, it is because of the desire to own the limited edition as well their stories in owning these limited editions. Likewise, when people queue overnight during an Apple product launch, it’s because of the novel excitement.

All these  real-life experiences and stories will permeate across social media and may create viral effects that attract more and more people to shop.

People are buying into “why” now. It is a trend  of “showrooming”, a trend of shopping for review before  buying. Hence,  having  the key winning  retail brands that know how to create  more why’s and unique stories will have the advantage to draw more crowd.

Decoration in shopping malls, especially  during  festive  seasons, is a common expectation of shoppers. Hence,  it is gradually  a norm  for mall operators to invest on creative  festive decorations with to draw the crowds and create publicity.

Some of the classic festive decora- tive elements include  giant Christmas trees with snowfall during Christmas, a majestic  palace  surrounded by cherry blossoms during  Chinese  New Year, kampung houses with nostalgic displays during Hari Raya, colourful kolam with unique  patterns during   Deepavali, dazzling street lightings during year-end celebrations and more.

Shoppers’ lifestyles

Mall decorations also present shoppers with plenty of photographic opportuni- ties to share  and remember. Malls are capitalising on the lifestyles of shoppers’ postings on social media to further create word-of-mouth publicity.

Mural arts that are reflective of today’s local lifestyle or past history, and

3D art corners are some examples  that can be created which locals and tourists are also very fond of.

Characters parading in theme  parks and  promoters walking  about   with unique costumes and appearances are also tactical to offer pleasant surprises and wholesome values that shoppers will remember for a long time.

Shopping malls are also preferred destinations for events with celebrities and artistes’ appearances, music enter- tainment, food  fest, sports,  licensed characters and community gatherings as major draws.

Surprising   shoppers or  bringing something unique to the community is a great opportunity to differentiate one mall from another, and  works well in drawing crowds.

Shopping rewards

It is important to note that the conven- tional value marketing still plays an key role in drawing crowds.

While enjoying  the new shopping experience, many  are  still attracted

by shopping rewards  such as gift redemptions, special discounts, contest prizes,  anniversary sales  and  loyalty programmes.

Creative promotions and  offerings are important to entice  spending and improve  sales conversion. The impact is more  significant,  especially  during the economic slowdown  when people are  more  cautious in their  spending and always on the lookout for value for money.

Marketers  know that  a great expe- rience  beyond  expectation will build emotional touch  and  drive  loyalty. Hence,  for all the good efforts that are done, malls should never forget to close the loop with superior customer care.

Well-trained and friendly frontliners including  concierge assistants, security personnel, mall ambassadors, car park attendants, foreign language translators and sales assistants play roles.

Showing genuine care to customers is key to great customer experience. Pos- itive and regular customer engagement will lead to customer satisfaction and hence drives frequent visitations.

Phang Sau Lian is the Assistant Secretary of the Malaysia Shopping Malls Association and the General Manager of Sunway Putra Mall